Engaging or Distracting?

Lowering millennial dropout rates with mobile technology.

GUEST COLUMN | by Danial Jameel

CREDIT OOHLALADropout rates among college students remain high, and approximately 21 percent of students at public institutions fail to graduate. However, grades and tough class schedules are not the only reason students are leaving college without a degree. Institutions are increasingly finding that engagement is a common factor that affects student retention.

As a consequence, colleges and universities are working feverishly to engage students and turning to mobile technology, specifically apps, to do so. But as the edtech market continues to boom, are these tools engaging students in the right ways or are they just a distraction?

Forward thinking colleges and universities that take a mobile approach when it comes to increasing engagement through apps will be ahead of the curve.

Millennials’ Digital Behaviors Drive Demand for Change

The need to increase engagement among college students can largely be traced to the fact that colleges and universities are having to adapt to changing behaviors and preferences of a new generation. Millennials are the majority demographic on college campuses today, and to this group of individuals, technology is the center of their world. From social networking to communicating with friends, technology is engrained into their day-to-day lives.

According to the Pearson Student Mobile Device Survey, eight in ten (83 percent) of college students regularly use a smartphone and the gap is quickly closing between smartphones being used as frequently as laptops.[1] In fact, millennials even send an average of 181 texts a day, according to Mobile Marketer. [2] This tech-savvy generation is all about rapid response, seamless communication and have even started to peg email as an outdated medium.

These changes have in part fueled the rapid growth of the edtech sector. In just the first quarter of 2014, more than $559 million was funneled into the industry covering 103 deals,[3] according to CB Insights. Specifically with apps, the industry has seen education apps gain a share of the overall app market.[4] But do these apps follow the efficacy framework established by Pearson’s and do they support students both academically and socially?

Why Colleges Shouldn’t Overlook Mobile Apps in Edtech Strategy

For colleges and universities, incorporating mobile technology into communication efforts improves the experience for students, but also has the potential to deliver financial benefits. Public institutions lose between $8,000 and $16,000 per student per year every time a student drops out. While the number of edtech tools available today is increasing, it’s important that these tools meet all the needs of the student. If engagement is part of the problem for student retention, then technologies that are put in place by institutions must seek to engage students both inside and outside of the classroom.

Let’s take a look at a college student with a full course-load, for example. A full course-load means that the student is only in class 20-25 hours a week – a small fraction of their time. Without other ways to feel engaged by the university and the surrounding community, that student can very easily feel isolated and depressed. Institutions that are not able to effectively connect with students beyond their time in the classroom are failing when it comes to engagement.

Texas A&M at Galveston is an example of one university that was looking to implement a new mobile platform in hopes to improve engagement. The app went beyond academics and connected students to their peers and community. With this app, students were provided access to a wealth of information and activities all at their fingertips and subsequently felt more engaged. As a result, the school has increased peer-to-peer engagement and produced a total of 50,594 conversations using the platform. Of the students that used the app, 83 percent said the app helped them get off to a good start at their university and 67 percent felt the app helped to reduce stress in the first weeks of university life.

The Future of Edtech is Mobile

As future generations become consistently more reliant on their mobile devices, education institutions must continue seeking new ways to connect with them through those outlets. Personalization and continued interaction with the school and other students is a crucial part of a student’s success. Forward thinking colleges and universities that take a mobile approach when it comes to increasing engagement through apps will be ahead of the curve when it comes to attracting and retaining students, particularly right now, the millennial generation.


[1] Pearson. Pearson Student Mobile Device Survey – National Report: College Students. Retrieved from: http://www.pearsoned.com/wp-content/uploads/Pearson-HE-Student-Mobile-Device-Survey-PUBLIC-Report-051614.pdf

[2] Mobile Marketer Magazine. Why text messaging is still key to reaching millennials. Retrieved from: http://www.mobilemarketer.com/cms/news/messaging/18137.html

[3] CB Insights. Global Ed Tech Financing Hits Record in Q1 2014. Retrieved from: https://www.cbinsights.com/blog/ed-tech-venture-capital-record/

[4] CB Insights. Ed Tech’s App Store Share Rises. Which VC-Backed Apps are Winning? Retrieved from: https://www.cbinsights.com/blog/ed-tech-app-ranking-momentum/

Danial Jameel is CEO/founder of OOHLALA mobile, a smart mobile platform for higher education institutions. OOHLALA works with over 100 universities in 5 countries improving engagement and student outcomes.


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